Monday, 30 April 2012

Another Gathering Storm

The storm clouds are gathering again, not over Britain - we're in a very wet drought at the moment - no, they are gathering once more over Europe and the Euro. We are heading for another crisis, more panic in the markets and another quarter when the continent drags down the world's economy including our own.

The papers at the weekend were full of stories of various countries around the Eurozone that are struggling to convince their electorates of the need for austerity or who are about to elect those who don't believe in it and mean to cut up rough the moment they are in power. There are stories about the rise of the right, stories about the rise of the left and stories about those still in power having dairy products hurled at them if they ever show their faces in public.

And yet, through all of this, where is the call for these countries, particularly Greece, to quit the Euro? They come only from those whose objection to it is nationalistic rather than economic. Why do they have this blindspot to the real cause of Europe's problems?

The only satisfactory explanation I can come up with is that membership of a one size fits all Euro has, paradoxically, become a matter of national pride. The fact that you were invited to be part of this club was seen as a badge of honour, an external audit - albeit with fiddled figures - had been done by the gnomes of Brussels and your country had passed. Suddenly you were like Germany. If only.

And so, despite the riots and the fallen governments, nobody seems to be asking the obvious question: Why don't we leave the Euro? It's not just the politicians, although they are the worst offenders when it comes to this peculiar brand of masochism. Their people seem to have bought into this fantasy too. Membership is seen as totemic. They cannot or will not see the damage they are doing.

Perhaps one brave man or woman will one day see that this monetary empire has no clothes and will pull the plug. The chances are that if one leaves then others will follow. But how much damage will their people have to suffer first? Do we have to see more riots, civil disobedience, mass emmigration?

Will this be the last crisis? Probably not. Experience teaches us that our leaders will allow us to endure a great deal before they admit that they are wrong.

Another Turnip?

Roy Hodgson for England manager? Oh God they've gone and appointed a turnip again.

I'm sure Roy is a lovely chap, although that speech impediment is going to grate on all of our nerves over the summer. But why is he being appointed? Yes he has lots of experience and a reasonable record over the years, albeit nothing spectacular. But then there is the exception of his sorry time at Liverpool. Does that not reveal a great deal? He was appointed to a big job dealing with big egos, a big fan base and huge expectations and he failed. Miserably.

There is another parallel with his time at Liverpool. He was appointed because he was a pragmatic choice and he was also comparatively cheap. The same is true of this new appointment. No mega salary will be required and no mega compensation to his club since he did not have a lengthy contract to buy out. After the various expensive mistakes of recent years England have decided to play safe, at least with the money.

Hodgson is good at taking middling teams and giving them mid table respectability. Is this a tacit admission by the FA that England are kidding themselves if they think they can win the European Championship? Is a mid table man a bit of expectation management? 

The only consolation is that expectations will now be low. The sales of those silly little flags to fly on your car will be as disappointing as our weather. Maybe this is the FA's cunning plan, like when politicians tell us that they are expecting to get a hammering at the polls only for things not to be so bad. Or maybe they have a sponsorship deal with turnip growers.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Grrrrrreat Leader?

The above video shows footage of North Korea's remarkably lifelike effigy of South Korea's president Lee Myung-Bak. It was set upon by a dog and dragged around by a tank. So you see this is a country that may have trouble feeding itself and building functional rockets may be beyond its scientists, but it still does a fine line in propaganda and demonising foreigners.

And anyway things cannot be so bad there as was alleged. Why are we sending them food aid when they haven't even eaten all of their dogs?

Ban Umbrellas

Do you know what is the worst thing about Britain when the weather is lousy as it is at the moment? It's not the constant, unrelenting greyness. It's not the rain. We need rain, it is the giver of life. And this week it has added to mine and the nation's merriment immeasurably. I wouldn't have missed for the world the hilarious sight of BBC News - with its objectivity as ever challenged by its simultaneous unending desire to educate us about what we should be thinking - sending out reporters to stand by rivers and reservoirs and patiently explaining to us how it is possible to be enduring a drought whilst at the same time having to distribute emergency sandbags. 

No, the problem with the weather when it is like this is umbrellas. Bloody umbrellas. Get out of the bloody way. Oh and golfing umbrellas are for use for playing golf. They should not be used in place of an ordinary sized umbrella when trying to negotiate crowded city pavements, particularly in London's West End. They are nearly the same width as the pavement and force everyone else to do the limbo underneath them in order to get past or to step out in front of oncoming traffic.

It is a surprise that the health and safety police haven't done something about umbrellas. Perhaps that chap who brought Tottenham Court Road to a standstill yesterday had had enough of negotiating his way through the maze of umbrellas being wielded like avenging weapons by people being precious about their hair.

At the risk of sounding like Jeremy Clarkson, I think all umbrella users should be taken out and, if not shot, at least soaked with a hose. Or make them stand in the rain since there's a hosepipe ban. It's only water you know. If you're worried about your hair wear a hat. They are much easier to get past on Oxford Street.

Beam Him Up!

The Conservatives have had a terrible few weeks I think we can all agree. But take a look at the picture above. Doesn't it make you think that actually, even if you are Nadine Dorries, rule by the posh boys is not so bad after all? Forrest used the word catastrophic earlier this week to describe the economy. It more accurately describes that picture of him. It says more, as pictures are wont to do, about why the British people are finding him difficult to live with let alone love. He looks like one of those aliens who have stretched their skin too tight in Men in Black. Few politicians manage to look they are of the people. Forrest struggles to look like he is one of our species.

 The Tories should think about using it in their campaign literature. Hell they should put it on giant posters and display it prominently, although they may wish to take care about siting it near major road junctions for fear of causing accidents. It would probably frighten children too. Yes, for the moment Labour are riding high in the polls and will probably do very well in this week's local elections even if Ken will lose to Boris. But at a general election they will have to send this freak of nature out to meet people. They will probably freak out.

Now I know all of this is unspeakably unfair. And I know that I am no oil painting myself. But then politics is unfair and images do count. This one counts for so much even the Office of National Statistics couldn't get it wrong.

But what makes him a real catastrophe is the vacuous nonsense he says. This is no odd looking man with a first class, creative mind. This is a man with nothing to say other than to criticise the governments every move and jump on every bandwagon. What would he do? We've no idea. He just issues platitudes about making the world fairer, capitalism less beastly, our economy less unbalanced. He would, he worthily informs us, govern for the squeezed majority, not the few at the top. How? Well, we'll have to wait and see, he doesn't quite say but might as well. Are you holding your breath?

Labour made great play of our fall into technical recession this week but what would they do? They oppose every cut but admit that there would need to be some. They oppose sensible reforms like more regionalised pay because that's what the trade unionists and public sector voters workers want to hear. But balancing the books? They won't worry too much about that.

It's so much easier to tell us how heartless the Tories are. That's what the ever more ridiculous Diane Abbott said on Question Time this week on the issue of housing benefit, a policy that Labour sometimes supports unless it suits them not to. Much like everything else. Seriously, what planet are they from?

Friday, 27 April 2012

Copping Off

It has not been a good few months for the Metropolitan Police. They have lost senior officers, been accused of incompetence, corruption and been revealed to be a bunch of lard arses. They allowed feral youth to riot, loot and set fire to large parts of London and got altogether too pally with certain news organisations who do not meet with the approval of the bien pensant crowd who tell us all what we should be thinking about the issues du jour.

And it is questionable whether they are any good these days at detection too. It was announced with great fanfare this week that British police are going to ride to the rescue of their somewhat reluctant Portuguese colleagues and try to find what happened to Madeleine (not Maddie) McCann.It's true of course that the Portuguese police did appear to make a pig's ear of the whole investigation and seemed to come to the conclusion, without evidence, that it was the parents wot dunnit. Thus they gave up.

Yet it should be noted that our police have, for the last two years, been having a devil of a job figuring out what happened to a man found padlocked naked and long deceased in a sports bag. This is the same man who had a history of such adventures and was once found handcuffed to his own bed and crying out for help. It's an open and shut case or sports bag, surely? But the police just can't figure out how he did it.

If only Jonathan Creek or Sherlock weren't fictional.

Galloway the Muslim?

According to an interview with Jemima Khan in The New Statesman, George Galloway converted to Islam more than ten years ago. Curiously he did not mention this to the world, and indeed it has only come to light now because Khan knew someone who attended the ceremony. She put this to the new MP for Bradford West and he did not deny it. Nor did he confirm it however.

Later, with his characteristic bluster, Galloway issued a sort of denial,  although it was unclear which part of Khan's story he was denying - the ceremony or the fact that he is now a Muslim. He says he denied it at the time and yet the New Statesman has it all on tape. Truth and Mr Galloway you see have an uneasy relationship.

He does not deny being a Muslim convert, surely the salient point here and does not explain how he could have married his latest wife in a ceremony that can only involve two Muslims.

So why is he being so coy? Why keep this to himself? Still, I'm sure the truth will come out, inshallah.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Chelsea Inevitably?

I don't think I'm alone in having a sneaking suspicion that this could be Chelsea's year in the Champions League, notwithstanding the contribution of John Terry. Indeed, maybe his latest moment of madness on Tuesday helped to further galvanise his team mates. It was a superb performance, albeit against a Barcelona team that suddenly looks listless and, for all of that wonderful passing, incapable of the sort of simple football any team needs to deploy from time to time when the pressure is on and the clock is ticking.

Chelsea rode their luck and battled in the best traditions of English football. But it is not just this that convinces me that this might be their year. It's also football's consistent ability to throw up stories like this. A club owned by a billionaire who has recruited the best and most handsomely rewarded finally wins with a temporary boss gleaned from the backroom boys and called Robbie by the players he has known for years. How can anyone resist that narrative? And he has even got Torres to score. Who would bet against the same player scoring in the final?

But what convinces me even more are the parallels with Liverpool in 2005. They too rode their luck, shocked and stunned teams regarded as favourites and managed to go all the way with a team in dire need of rebuilding. Most of all they ended a season in which they had struggled in the Premier League and had failed to qualify for the Champions League by finishing in the top four by qualifying for it by winning the thing. Is the same about to happen for Chelsea?

Livingstone's Lies

I have been asked by some readers to state why it is that I keep echoing Boris's accusation that Ken Livingstone is a fucking liar. I am happy to oblige:

Livingstone is alone amongst the leading candidates in not supplying, despite promises on television and on the hustings, his full tax details signed off by an accountant. He has thus far supplied only partial accounts which omit key details like total earnings and has failed to produce accounts for his company, Silveta.

He has repeatedly claimed that he has produced these accounts when this is not the case.

Yet despite these claims he has then contradicted himself, and did so just this week, promising to publish Silveta's accounts signed off by an accountant. They have still not materialised.

His defence a couple of weeks ago was that nobody had asked for these accounts. In fact several journalists, including those from the BBC, Evening Standard and Daily Telegraph have asked repeatedly and been given the brush off.

His last line of defence on this issue was to stop pretending that he had not used a tax avoidance vehicle but to claim he was only doing what another candidate, Boris Johnson, was doing. This was also not true. Boris has provided full disclosure, signed off by an accountant, which shows that he receives a salary from his role as mayor and is taxed as a self employed freelancer for his other income, mostly his regular column for the Daily Telegraph. It was this cynical attempt to shift focus by telling lies about Johnson's tax affairs which prompted the mayor to call his opponent a fucking liar. Was he wrong?

The point about Livingstone's taxes is that it has revealed his startling hypocrisy. He berates people who avoid tax but does it himself. He's not breaking the law of course, but he is criticising others and even claiming they should be denied the vote despite the fact he does the same thing.

But it's not just tax on which Ken has been caught telling lies.

His website makes all kinds of claims about how much money electing Ken will save Londoners. Look below the claims however and they do not stand up. They are lies.

Livingstone's idea of capping estate agents fees for renters will only save people money if they move. So how can he average that out for everyone over his full term as an annual saving?

He claims that average users of London transport will save £250 a year. In fact it turns out that this only applies to those who commute every day from zones 5 or 6.

Livingstone likes to tell his lies most of all in one on one interviews:

He claimed that there had been an 8% increase in murders in London when the Met reports a 24.1% fall.

He claimed he brought in the freedom pass for pensioners. In fact it was brought in in 1973, 27 years before Ken became mayor.

Far from freezing TFL fares as he claims, they in fact increased by 43% in the case of bus fares.

He claimed that, despite various investigations, some conducted by Tories, no evidence for corruption or cronyism was found. In fact those reviews found that money was misspent on a massive scale and poured into projects that failed to deliver. There was criticism of 'unusual' payments made to female friends of Lee Jasper, Ken's crony, who had to resign after he was found to have channelled money to an organisation run by a woman he knew and wanted to know much better.

Ken claims to have identified money to recruit 1700 extra police officers, which would cost £90 million a year. He cannot fund this for even one year according to facts on his own website.

This the man the Labour Party is backing to run our capital city, a man who says one thing and does another, who lies repeatedly according to his audience and what he thinks he can get away with. He is, lest we forget, currently only a couple of points behind Boris in the opinion polls.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

PMQs 25th April 2012 - The Double Dip Edition

The only trouble, if you are an opposition leader watching while an accident prone government stumbles from disaster to disaster, is that you are spoilt for choice about what to talk about. As Forrest showed last week, when he gave a very decent impression of a kid in a chocolate shop, focus is everything. He showed none and Dave got away with his omnishambles remarkably lightly.

Today is what might, with classic understatement for which these islands are so rightly proud, be called a busy news day. The furore over the Budget has finally died down, but only because the agenda and focus has moved to a different part of government.

How Dave must rue the day he infuriated the fourth estate by setting up the Leveson Inquiry and in particular the man who has become that estate's most roguish landlord. Some have argued before that inquiry that the influence of the media and newspapers is overstated. This last month, as they have all torn into the omnishambles and indeed given it its name, has provided empirical evidence otherwise. However canny the Downing Street media operation and, like many parts of this government, there is a suspicion that it is anything but, once the media pack takes against you it is hard to escape, even if you have at times availed yourself of their hospitality and equine facilities.

In other circumstances, or rather on another day, the prime minister could be forgiven for staying at home and cowering behind the settee as he probably used to do as a kid when the Daleks were on television. Instead he has to face the hordes who are trying to exterminate his culture minister and may soon, dependent upon what else emerges in the coming days, turn on him. The only upside is that he faces Forrest, a man who all too often displays Dalek-like rigidity and similar levels of charisma. He can probably cope with stairs but seems to have difficulties with original thinking and policy formulation, which is desirable if you want to rule the world, or part of it.

Still, today he was again spoilt for choice. Would he join the hunt for Hunt, would he talk about our flatlining economy which is technically in recession and link it back to the Budget? Or would he try and do it all once again?

Forrest got a more than usually hearty cheer from his backbenches this week for some reason. Maybe they felt he needed a confidence boost. This was a big occasion, a chance to really do some damage to a faltering government and boost his own reputation.

But it was the economy he started on. It was 'catastrophic,' he said, that the economy shrank again during the last quarter. Except it isn't really is it. It's disappointing but it's only a provisional figure, is out of step with many other surveys and represents a decline that can barely be measured, if indeed it actually happened. Catastrophic is overstating things a little.

Not that Dave said any of this of course. He laid the blame on his predecessors with well rehearsed lines about the need for low interest rates and how borrowing more would be an odd response to a debt crisis. It is a pity really that the government persists with its stance of pretending that there is an aching chasm between its own position and that of Labour. Labour would cut too, just not quite as much. The difference is tiny. He might also then be able to point out that, for all the talk of cuts and doing them too far and too fast according to Labour, this country still borrowed £126 billion in the fiscal year just ended and will be borrowing throughout this parliament, having already doubled the national debt since Gordon Brown lost control only 4 years ago.

Forrest, betraying signs of wanting to have it all again, rounded off his questions about the economy by quoting from Nadine Dorries. Arrogant posh boys don't  understand what we are all going through she and now the Labour leader claimed.

But then, despite the supposedly catastrophic state of our economy, Forrest moved on. It was on to the issue of Jeremy Hunt, the (alleged) friend of Rupert and enemy of newsreaders and Today presenters, if only because of his easily mispronounced name. At first Dave equivocated a little, adopting the stance that we should wait for Leveson to report before rushing to judgement. But then Forrest called him pathetic. He really shouldn't. It makes him sound like a schoolboy berating bullies.

But it did force the PM to be forceful in his support of Hunt. He had his full support for the excellent job he was doing, he said and praised him for publishing the independent advice he has received and accepted in his dealings with Murdoch's now defunct BSkyB bid.

At this point Forrest deployed a better word than pathetic. He invoked the word sleaze. It was actually a decent attempt at an evening news grabbing soundbite as he claimed that 'the shadow of sleaze will hang over this government.'

Unfortunately for him this just enraged Dave. He tends to be at his best when his back is up against the wall and he came out fighting once again. He didn't duck his responsibilities he told the House, pointing out that he had set up the Leveson Inquiry and bemoaning once again Forrest's flip flopping and bandwagon jumping.

It was feisty Dave again today and, though Forrest was on decent form, he simply did not do enough with the wealth of material he had at his disposal. Dave will see that as a win.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Old Style Politics Refuses To Die

 The news from last night that fucking liar Ken Livingstone has drawn to more or less level with Boris is depressing but probably inevitable. It just goes to show that, though you can't fool all of the people all of the time, you can fool enough of them to get elected or at least get close.

The reason why Livingstone's tax affairs - he still hasn't published in full in the same way that his rivals have, despite his assertions otherwise, and even claims, again falsely, that nobody has requested the missing information - the reason why they are important is because they speak of his character and his tendency to say what suits any particular audience. If Boris had been caught out avoiding taxes it would be less problematic, at least in theory, because he has never said what Ken has said about what should happen to those who avoid tax.

What is more to the point though is that if Livingstone cannot be straightforward about his taxes as a dyed in the wool socialist, then why should we believe any of his other promises about cheaper fares and sweets for all? This is just Labour making pledges again that it knows it probably won't be able to keep and yet is content to do so because by the time we realise they will be safely ensconsed in power. Livingstone is stuck in a timewarp, the economic realities of our current predicament seem to elude him, or at least he is content to pretend that they do.

The events in France and the Netherlands yesterday and over the weekend showed that old style promise the earth politics are still very much alive and kicking. The reason that Europe is struggling to emerge from recession and in many cases plunging back into it is because we are still addicted to it, not because we need to spend more. We have all been doing the national equivalent of buying our weekly groceries on a credit card. You can do it for a while but eventually you have to pay the money back. When you do you end up with even less to spend on those weekly necessities. That is reality. That is what we are currently enduring. The likes of Livingstone pretend to find another narrative, the same old one that they will magic the money from somewhere and we shouldn't worry our pretty little heads about it.

And there are some on the left who do realise the scale of our predicament. Yet their solution, rather than to spend less and try to make ourselves competitive, is to cut ourselves off from globalisation. Erect trade barriers, they say, become self sufficient. This, by the way, is what the Nazis wanted to do. It is called an autarky - a self contained economic system. Unfortunately, as the Nazis demonstrated, it requires having to conquer foreign lands to provide resources. The closest the world has ever come to a comparatively benign form of autarky, at least compared to the Nazis, was the British empire. Is that what the lefties want?

The fact is that, though Ken is one of the worst, he is by no means alone amongst his brethren in being a fucking liar and telling the country what it wants to hear rather than the cold truth. We are pricing ourselves out of business in an ultra competitive world. We are doing so by taxing too much and thus making this country too expensive. Further, the left has compounded the damage by allowing uncontrolled immigration forcing down the wages of the unskilled or low skilled whilst forcing up the costs of housing. It's the economics of the madhouse.

It is true that some are doing very well and earning plenty, but that is because they have taken the trouble to learn the skills that are in demand. Yet the left, in another one of its self defeating dogmas, has dumbed down education thanks to its insistence on not pressuring the kids and not being elitist, meaning we are turning out thousands of young adults who can barely read or write in anything other than txt spk, let alone write insurance or computer programs where they might earn decent money in industries where Britain still leads the world.

It doesn't have to be like this, but we do need better and more honest politicians, men and women prepared to tell harsh truths and to risk unpopularity. You might call it leadership. Across Europe and here in London that is still not happening. How much further do we have to sink, how much more in debt, how many more millions have to be unemployed before we are willing to hear the truth and vote for those telling it?

Monday, 23 April 2012

Selective Democracy and Constitutional Reform

Here's a newsflash for the government and its backbenchers, or perhaps that should just be the Lib Dem part of it - people, the public, don't care about Lords reform. If you ask them what they think about it in a referendum (although I realise you will do your best to avoid this) all that will be achieved is huge expense to achieve the lowest turnout in democratic history. We elect you to govern us and decide these things, indeed this issue is one that obsesses the political class and political anoraks like me and absolutely nobody else. This is your job, however hard it may be. Using referendums to get around internecine disagreements is not a good use of public money.

This is not to say that the House of Lords shouldn't be reformed. It is a nonsense in the 21st century. But it is hardly a priority. Say what you like about our upper chamber, but it does actually work and shows a great deal more independence than the Commons. Finding a system that preserves that tradition and competence without challenging the supremacy of the Commons will be no easy task, although you would have thought that abolishing the right of bishops to sit in parliament ought to be an easy starting position. But hey, perhaps that's why I'm not a politician. 

It isn't as if we don't have other major constitutional issues that could and should be put to a referendum. The EU for instance or the ECHR. Then again of course it is arguable that such consultations would be rather pointless because the results would be a foregone conclusion. Those who rule us suspect that our answer would be unacceptable to them so they use every trick in the book to avoid asking us, even if it means breaking a promise made at a general election.

It is precisely this kind of selective approach to democracy which means so many people would like to choose a plague on all of their houses option at any and all elections at the moment, even if it means voting for George Galloway. Democracy doesn't actually mean anything if there is no real choice, and on all too many of the major issues currently dominating the news we have no choice but to accept what we are given by the big three.

The British public watched wearily last week as our politicians turned on the latest Home Secretary to find that they are in government and yet powerless to deport an illegal immigrant who wishes us ill or worse, is costing us millions and whose lawyers are running rings around them thanks to a court that, by its own admission, makes things up when it suits. All of this because we must obey the abstract notion of a rule of law - even if it means protecting people who ignore it or subvert it according to choice.

The government, thanks to the presence of the Lib Dems, will not consider the sensible and wildly popular solution of ignoring the court or taking the nuclear option of removing ourselves from the jurisdiction of a foreign court manned by non lawyers and representatives of countries that are barely democratic and trusting instead a system of law that gave us Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus, the Glorious Revolution, parliamentary sovereignty and eventual democracy.

We could and should simply put Qatada on a plane and be rid of him. But more than that we could and should assert the supremacy of our Supreme Court via a Bill of Rights. There is absolutely no reason why this should not happen other than the objections of a rump party desperate to look assertive. Give us a referendum on something that matters and has a real bearing on the security of this country and the people who live and vote here as of right rather than invented, fictional rights. Let the Lib Dems kick up a fuss if they are foolish enough to do so. It will only hasten their extinction if people can see what they really care about and are willing to make a stand on rather than the pious rhetoric of their wilderness years.

Meanwhile the people of France are faced with another invidious choice which is no real choice, of more of the same socialism lite from Sarkozy or the real thing from Hollande -  more fantasy economics and electoral bribes with other people's money. It is precisely this kind of politics - the sort we in the UK suffered for 13 years prior to 2010 most egregiously but in reality for most of the post war period - which is why our economies are so sclerotic and debt ridden and millions are unemployed. There is no money left, we cannot afford to go on borrowing to pay for ourselves and pretending that all can be solved by taxing 'the rich' to pay for it all. We live in a globalised world, but Europe is pretending to be an island isolated from it.

The only advantage from our point of view is that, if the socialists win, we will have the chance to see, demonstrated at a convenient distance, what we would suffer if we were silly enough to elect Labour again, which is sticking rigidly to the old consensus view for want of any new ideas or an outbreak of reality. The downside will be that it will all bring on yet another Euro crisis, further undermining our own chances of recovery.

The tragedy of all of this is that we do not have to have politics this way. It requires our politicians to treat us like grown ups. The rule of law is a nonsense if applied with absolute rigidity and no common sense, but politicians feel incapable of saying so. The House of Lords may be unfair and undemocratic but it actually works rather well and the parties who control the Commons are the last people we should trust to tinker with it because they are doing it for all of the wrong reasons and without any clear idea of what they are trying to achieve. And the European economic model, the one being stoutly defended with our money, is broken and causing untold misery in addition to entrenching our uncompetitiveness and long term decline. These are unpalatable truths perhaps but then nobody ever said life was easy. Well actually politicians of all parties claim to be able to make it that way. Then they wonder why we don't turn out to vote or vote for George Galloway.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Britain Avoids Recession Thanks to Francis Maude - You Read It Here First

According to the ONS, Britain may well have avoided a technical recession by the narrowest of margins. The economy will probably be reported to have grown by a measly 0.1% in the first quarter of the year. Part of the reason for this, aside from that warm spell we enjoyed but have now forgotten as we shiver in showers and endure a drought, was the petrol panic. All of those queues gave an unexpected and timely boost to the economy.

You read it here on this blog first. Perhaps Dave should make Francis Maude his new Chancellor, at least he has a kind of strategy for growth.

Lender of Last Resort

Oh dear, George is in trouble again. That's not George Galloway for my leftist readers (yes, there are some) but our damaged Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is now proposing to give more money to the IMF, having initially indicated resistance to the proposal. Further he is doing so in a typically Osborne way, one that ensures he won't have to ask parliament's permission. It is not, contrary to what shifty George asserts,  in line with our quota. If we did that it would have been more money and would have involved running it by those pesky people in the Commons.

There is nothing wrong in principle with Britain loaning more money to the IMF. It is just a loan and we are shareholders with obligations. The Chancellor further adds that no country has ever lost money lending to the IMF. But there is the rub. The reason that we are being called on once again to give money to the IMF is so that they can prop up various countries in the Eurozone and indeed the Eurozone itself. Why? Because other lenders, those who buy government debt, are getting cold feet. There is only one reason why this should happen, they are worried that they won't get their money back, that impecunious politicians with tunnel vision and a characteristic refusal to accept economic reality will eventually force them to take a haircut on their loans - a default in normal language.

In short, whilst in principle there should be no problem in us lending to the IMF, we should also be taking the role of the grave and slightly forbidding bank manager and asking some awkward questions. We should be worried about getting our money back. Anyway, Europe's leaders keep telling the world that the problem is solved, that they have done a deal and saved the Euro. So why do they need our money then?

The Euro is still muddling through but it is doing so by throwing lots of good money after bad, which is fine if foolish so long as it is their money. The ECB has managed to paper over the cracks since the turn of the year by lending the continent's banks money at remarkably attractive rates which they have then been using to buy government debt. It's the sort of thing that bankers do to make easy profits and then reward themselves with big bonuses for their cleverness. This time however it is not just the bankers who are being shifty. It is Europe's politicians too. By sending them more of our money without pointing out the folly of their ways and pretending that there is no risk attached, Osborne is one again indulging in the kind of sophistry that means his Budget is still causing trouble a month since he held up that red box for the cameras and commended his slyness to the nation.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Qatada: The Solution

I have the solution to the Abu Qatada problem, prime minister. Just make me a minister for a day (under the circumstances I'll accept a peerage, although it offends my principles) and I will order the deportation, risking incurring the wrath of the courts. I will then go down the nearest pub with a wad of cash and employ a few blokes to bundle him onto a plane which will be flown by volunteer pilots. Could we borrow a plane? Or just arrange for someone to leave the keys in one.

Of course, since we are keen on observing the rule of law - even when nobody is really sure what it is and it keeps changing according to the whims of some people who don't actually live here - I would then have to be tried for this outrageous act. I'm prepared to submit myself to the good sense of a jury of my peers. I trust them more than the judges of Strasbourg.

Climate Change: Is Television To Blame?

Have you noticed that, since all of those dire warnings of 'the worst drought since 1976' - that's the fourth of those we've had since that memorable summer- it has barely stopped raining. I'm sure this is the wrong type of rain, you know not enough of it, or in the wrong places or some such excuse, but at the very least it has meant that a hosepipe ban has not seriously incurred the wrath of farmers and gardeners, at least for the time being.

But I think we should study this phenomenon. Why is it that the moment the BBC despatches a reporter to stand by a dried up riverbed or reservoir, the heavens open? It was similar to those stories we used to get  of computer forecasts for how warm the climate was going to get. At that point, unpredicted it goes without saying, the climate stopped warming and indeed hasn't warmed since.

Rain is of course an issue close to our hearts here in Britain. We tend to get a lot of it and so when it stops we also tend to think that the world is about to come to an end. Thus BBC satellite vans rush off to capture pictures of dry and cracking things and a few days later half of the country is under water. We had a similar phenomenon only a few years ago, the memory of 1976 was once again invoked, people talked about climate change inevitably and within a few weeks most of Gloucestershire and the West Country was under water and the BBC had to find some satellite boats.

Now I'm not saying that the same is going to happen again. These may just be April showers. But when was the last time you actually remember April living up to its reputation and being a month of showers? Could it be that British weather is, as usual, confounding us all and being unpredictable? The only thing that is predictable is that, come rain or shine, someone somewhere will say it is all because of human activity. Oh and the BBC will send a reporter to stand by something suitably dramatic and televisual.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Rule of Lawyers, Not the Law

I'm sorry but I don't understand why the media is getting itself into a frenzy, actually another one - it's been a very frenzied month - over the latest shenanigans of Abu Qatada and his vexatious legal team. Indeed, much as pyramid schemes have become known as Ponzi schemes, perhaps doing a Qatada should become short hand for vexatious law suits.

Haven't we got used to this sort of thing by now? This is a man who entered this country illegally, would probably refuse to accept laws created by man rather than his imaginary friend in any other context, and yet has used the absurd and increasingly surreal human rights laws being made on the hoof in Strasbourg to live off the rest of us, smiling smugly throughout.

The ECHR, as we have long known, makes things up as it goes along. The only reason the Home Secretary had to go to the lengths she did to get assurances from Jordan was because they moved the goalposts and suddenly decided that evidence should not come from those who have been tortured in addition to promises not to slap leg irons on Qatada himself. A procedural wrangle over a day is the very least we can expect for a case that has dragged on for a decade.

This is not the rule of law we are witnessing, it is the rule of lawyers arguing over words and definitions and being indulged by our crazy system which has abandoned common sense for a pettifogging approach which has nothing whatever to do with protecting people's human rights. The lawyers are making our laws by challenging governmental action and stretching to breaking point human rights meant to stop the state sending people to concentration camps or silencing dissent, not endlessly challenging their right to deport dangerous illegal immigrants.

The latest attempts to reform this legal circus are doomed to failure and so the farce will continue until our politicians have the bravery to stop it or to seize control in the same way that some of our European neighbours do. In doing so they will have the overwhelming support of the public and media against objections from lawyers, Shami Chakrabarti and of course the Lib Dems. Quite why they have a veto on the issue remains a mystery, or are they determined, after seeing themselves become the fourth most popular party in the country, to fall to fifth behind the Greens or Respect?

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

PMQs 18th April 2012 - The Omnishambles Edition

Back in the 60s, Harold Wilson once remarked that a week is a long time in politics. But that was then, back in those heady days of strikes, the white heat of technology, devaluations that didn't have any effect on real money in your pocket and a British car industry.

We have had a month since Dave last faced Forrest across the dispatch box. And what a month it has been. Pastygate, granny taxes, charity taxes, donorgate, secret courts and a new attempt to spy on our e-mails and web searches. Much of it has been thanks to a Budget that keeps repeating on us, a bit like a pasty. This has been a month that should be measured in geological time, or the time gap between Liberals being in government.

Then, just when Labour couldn't believe their luck, along came George Galloway - god fearing, abstemious, pious and not at all sanctimonious George. Don't dare say he is a shameless fraud, hypocrite and liar. If so he will be forced to not swear at you. Apparently he doesn't do that either. George is the newly elected MP for Bradford West. It's the Bradford spring apparently. Few of us, when thinking of spring full of blossoms, daffodils and bouncing baby lambs ever think of Bradford. Now, if he has his way and manages to pull the spring wool over the eyes of more electors, we may think of George. There's a sobering thought. Abstemious George will most likely approve. But don't swear on it. 

It was revealed yesterday that Forrest has never seen Titanic. This is hardly a surprise. I for one wish I had never seen it. But I strongly suspect that Forrest has never seen it as, like the new puritan he is, he suspected that someone somewhere was having fun doing so and thus disapproved of it. It could of course be that, being something of a disaster himself, he feels no need to watch a slow ship crash. Or maybe he didn't want to claim to have seen it only to have to answer lots of questions about it,  the same way that Dave does about his love of the Smiths. Here's a tip for you Forrest, the ship sinks.

Anyway, there was no shortage of subjects on which to quiz Dave today.  Indeed Forrest showed signs of wanting to bring up everything that has come up this last month, you might call it having your pasty and eating it. But then, as Dave pointed out, for some reason he didn't want to talk about unemployment for the first time in months since we got some encouraging figures on it at last. Of course Dave may come to regret saying that in months to come. At least he didn't talk about green shoots.

Forrest instead started on that Budget that just keeps giving, or unravelling. But Forrest was still banging on about the 50p rate. Dave hit back with his peculiar and not entirely accurate assertion that the rich will pay five times over. Would he say that if he wasn't sitting next to Nick? Later he made the more convincing defence that Labour had had 13 years to introduce this rate but had done so right at the end when they were about to lose office. The 45p rate is still higher than it was throughout their time in office. Well done. At last. He almost sounded like a Tory.

As ever Forrest and his party are sifting through government measures and seeking out those who have lost out. Of course in doing so he is only following the lead of the media. But then this was a Budget replete with opportunities for this kind of mischief making. And Forrest echoed a line being taken in many places including this blog about the part time Chancellor. We'll be hearing that more often. Dave's riposte should be to make Osborne party chairman and find himself a new Chancellor.

But, given the past month, Dave was having a pretty easy time of it today. Forrest's have your pasty and eat it approach, of making jibes about more or less everything that has gone wrong this last month, meant he failed to press any point. He just moved on to the next.

And the PM was in feisty form after his break, even pointing out that he has been very busy but his opposite number should have had time to better prepare. And he had a point. Forrest was even reduced to his old line about this being prime minister's questions not questions for him and refusing to take any lectures from the PM. That last line in particular is never a good sign. Gordon Brown at his most desperate used to deploy it against his Tory tormentors.

And it isn't as if Forrest is without his troubles. Dave, with sterling support from behind him with many planted questions, was determined to talk about Ken Livingstone - a rich man avoiding tax. Why weren't Labour condemning him?

Finally Dave had a dig about the abstemious member for Kabul West. And at the end we got to hear a remarkably long and characteristically verbose question (uninterrupted by the Speaker) from the man himself urging the PM to get us out of Afghanistan. Cameron graciously congratulated him on his stunning victory but declined to take his advice, urging him to get behind our troops.

The PM breezed through a session that could and should have been difficult. Forrest's scattergun approach badly misfired. We may have lived through a shambolic last month since these two last faced one another, but you wouldn't have known it from what was heard in the cockpit of democracy. It looked, ominously for Labour, like business as usual.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Just A Bit More Due Process To Go

Make Smoking Uncool, Not Invisible

Among the many measures this hyperactive but not necessarily competent government is introducing, the latest assault on smokers is among the more eye catching. But will it work? Is this endless assault on people who smoke just an example of the nanny state turned into a bully? Smokers are addicts after all. We don't treat other addicts this way.

It should be pointed out by the way that I am not a smoker. I have never smoked. Indeed I recently volunteered for a study comparing smokers and non smokers to try and find what bio markers there are for lung cancer. Apparently, my years of non smoking, notwithstanding years of passive smoking have left me with excellent and above average lung capacity which is a shame because my gammy leg means I am unable to run. But for that I would almost certainly be in this year's London Marathon. Or vying for the Olympics. Well, maybe.

Now I bow to nobody in my admiration for the last government's smoking ban. It was probably the best and most far reaching thing they did. As someone who spent a couple of years working in a smoke filled casino in my late teens and early twenties, I know how unhealthy this can be, even for non smokers.

But you have to note that, several years into that ban, there are still people who are willing to stand and shiver outside in the freezing cold just to get their regular nicotine fix. So how much difference does the government think that its latest wheezes will have? If people are prepared to risk hypothermia and to spend a fiver for a packet of 20 to feed their addiction, then blank packets and making shop assistants open a door to serve you your ciggies isn't going to make much difference.

Will it put children off? I doubt it. The fact is that cigarettes, despite decades of negative publicity since the 1960s, still make you look cool. Watch an episode of Mad Men and tell me that I am wrong. I quote from an episode of my favourite sit com du jour, Big Bang Theory, in which Amy Ferrer Fowler taught a monkey to smoke. What did she learn from this? That it made him look much cooler than all of the other monkeys.

Now that's a joke, but it has a lot of truth to it. Cigarettes have always been about looking cool and the marketing men, consulting the new science of psychology, quickly cottoned on to it and played on it. Kids want to smoke because they think it will make them look cool and grown up. Then they're hooked. It's the great irony of smoking in that the very thing teenagers do which they imagine makes them look grown up infact proves how immature and silly they are. Very few, once they are hooked, will not subsequently regret it and spend a fortune and much effort trying to quit.

So the solution to smoking is to make it uncool. This isn't as easy as it sounds. After all people are willing to put up with smelling unpleasant, coughing like an old man and being unable to walk upstairs without wheezing. Even hints that it might affect your sexual potency have been unsuccessful.

Thus what the government should do is implement an aggressive strategy of ridicule and being judgmental for their own good. We might get a few religious nuts on board, the sort who stand outside shopping centres or on high streets telling us that we are all sinners. When people gather outside to smoke we should gather around them and point and laugh. They could have an advertising campaign set in the future in which a bunch of robots (perhaps we could resurrect the old Cadbury's Smash robots) sit around laughing uproariously at old films every time someone lights a fag.

And most of all we need to deploy sex as a weapon. Girls could be depicted sitting discussing boys and their merits. 'He's fit', one would say. 'Yeah, but he smokes,' her friend would reply. They then, after much giggling, both agree that he is a credulous and dimwitted loser who smells, has discoloured teeth and thus will never get laid.

Ultimately this approach, along with the inevitable Twitter hashtag campaign, is the only one that will work. As Twitter has proven, people do love being judgmental and cruel. Here's a chance to use that power for public health purposes.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Gideon Must Go

Up until now I have been an enthusiastic supporter of the government's resistance to reshuffles. I've never understood why these are felt necessary other than when ministers have to resign for whatever reason. Sure it is a sign of prime ministerial authority but how good can we expect ministers to be, how across their brief and in charge of their departments, if they only spend a year or two in their posts before being reshuffled? It wouldn't happen in any other walk of life and so it is hard to see why it should happen in departments spending billions and which oversee so many vital services on which we all rely.

Of course the civil service like it. It suits them fine. It is a splendid way to ensure that nothing is done or that what they want is done. And if one minister resists them well never mind, obfuscate and stall and another one will be along in a few months. We'll try again.

It seems likely that some of the worst aspects of George Osborne's Budget of less than a month ago were precisely these sort of measures - items resisted by the last government only to be revived under George Osborne. Pasty tax, granny tax, charitable donations - they tried their luck and the allegedly politically canny Osborne allowed them through. They probably couldn't believe their luck. Or perhaps George was so worn down by trying to appease and silence the Lib Dems he forgot about the other opposition, the civil service.

But what makes matters worse is that this was a Tory Chancellor making these elementary errors. The Treasury tend to regard our money as their money, some of which they graciously allow us to keep. That's why they try to close down any and all loopholes we may identify in their lovingly created legislation. A Tory Chancellor ought to appreciate that the best way of avoiding avoidance is to spend less and thus tax less so that we resent less how much of our money they are taking. George however is toeing the Treasury line. 

Many have theorised that the most likely and senior member of the Cabinet to be reshuffled whenever the PM gets around to it will be Andrew Lansley. But, for all of Lansley's travails these last few months, his problems were largely about communicating and persuasion. His department now needs a good manager, and preferably one who knows inside out the legislation so recently and rancorously  passed.

Given this logic how then is Osborne immune from the axe? Three and a half weeks since his Budget it is still making headlines and for all the wrong reasons. Even Gordon Brown at his most crafty and underhand couldn't make that boast. Osborne's Budget didn't really do much because he had no money to do anything. It was more or less just a tidying up exercise. Yet he contrived to make it hugely controversial and damaging. What good there was in it, and there was some as I wrote at the time, has been drowned out by micro measures he tried to hide or sneak out. It was a presentational disaster and for no good reason. This ought to have been a boring Budget, tweaking things but making no major changes as we wait for the economy to recover.

Osborne is proving to be a disastrous Chancellor. Yes he has had to cope with a struggling economy and is pushing through cuts, albeit not enough of them and in the wrong areas. But he has apparently not learned the lessons of Brown's time at the Treasury. A government that came into power trying to gain credit for being straight with us about the need for cuts and austerity and which made great play of its creation of an independent Office of Budget Responsibility has at the same time been caught out with Brown like wheezes on taxes and allowances and of muttering under their breath about changes they would rather we didn't notice. They made a lot of fuss about the 50% rate of tax whilst sucking ever more middle income earners into the 40% rate. Now the party of the Big Society is threatening people who give to charity pursuing a Lib Dem agenda against tax avoiders.  

And all of this has come from a man said to be a master strategist. The only evidence for this was his alleged master stroke in raising the inheritance tax limit and thus stopping Brown call an election. One can't help thinking that this, rather than a stroke of genius, was just beginners luck. George is nothing like as bright as we are told.What talent he has is the discredited, tricksy, crafty, sly sort the nation grew tired of under Labour.

In short this Chancellor looks hapless and hopeless and, at a time when we need a firm hand on the economic tiller, that is potentially disastrous. We need someone in this job who is straight with us, perhaps even boring. When he is presenting a fiscally neutral Budget he should just say so and present a short speech with just the bare facts and little more. The best hope of this government is that the pain we all have to endure will seem worth it in the end as the economy starts to recover and looks leaner and healthier after its enforced diet. For that we need simple, old fashioned competence and honesty. For that Dave may well need to be brave and  consider a new man as his neighbour at Number 11.

The Gall of Galloway

I just had a debate with someone who doubted that George Galloway's recent election win (he takes up his seat today as parliament reconvenes) was based at least in part on a specific appeal to Muslims and Muslim sensibilities in a dangerous and divisive way, a new kind of sectarian politics for the 21st century.

So here are a few examples for those who still doubt that this is what he did:

Galloway spoke of western imperialists

He spoke of the killing of millions of Muslims.

He proclaimed his belief in God and added: 'How will Muslims feel if, on judgement day, they have to explain to the almighty that they had the chance to vote for the leader of the anti war movement but had instead voted Labour'?

Galloway, hubristic and hungry for the limelight as ever (who else would claim to be the unelected leader of  a movement and to have God on his side?) is now in parliament but, thanks to his shameless opportunism and dishonesty, will achieve little for his constituents. Pandering to a seperatist mindset might get you elected and get you headlines. But it is divisive and dangerous. Fortunately gorgeous George will soon bore of his new role. Backbench MPs, even those with his gifts of demagoguery, are largely anonymous. And he won't like that one bit.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Titanic: 100 Years On - Ban All Cruises

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking with the loss of 1514 lives. Presumably there are some amongst us who regard it as deeply offensive that some people will today be enjoying cruises on this anniversary in the same way that some regard the notion of Liverpool, home of the Titanic, playing football on the anniversary of Hillsborough.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

The World's Vicious Dictators: Reassuringly Incompetent

We live, we are often told, in a dangerous and unstable world, full of tinpot dictatorships and countries teetering on the edge of chaos. And it is certainly true that many of these countries can make life at the very least unpredictable and often downright dangerous for anyone who strays anywhere near. We only have to look at Somalian pirates, Afghan warlords and drug dealers fighting with Taliban religious nuts, Iranian zealots imagining that they are holy and doing their imaginary friend's will or plain old fashioned greedy dictators grown accustomed to helping themselves to the riches of their countries and, if they are lucky, the aid sent to them by gullible, serially optimistic westerners.

Life would certainly be simpler, easier, fairer and safer if these people didn't exist. But then the same is true of humanity at large. Life would be better if we didn't have people on our own streets willing to steal with impunity, abuse trust, lie and cheat. The average dictator or religious fanatic is just like the lunatics you meet on your average street or bus in London from time to time. They only become truly dangerous to anyone other than themselves if fate decrees that they win power somehow. It's isn't as if cynicism and dishonesty isn't rewarded in our own politics. Look at Ken Livingstone, George Galloway, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Indeed Livingstone and Galloway have friends in the lowest and least democratic of places and Blair believed in keeping his enemies a little too close for comfort.

Fortunately for the survival of the human race, these delusional madmen do tend to combine their charisma and ruthlessness with the most spectacular delusions and incompetence, or at least they do if left in power for long enough.

Look at North Korea which has tried and failed again to test a rocket which it no doubt hoped would be a new bargaining chip for forthcoming negotiations. Unfortunately for them, this new bargaining chip spladooshed into the sea, presumably taking their 'satellite' which looked like a model made in a primary school with it. The world can breathe easy.

The world's most hermetic state is nothing like as threatening as is alleged. It may or may not have functioning nuclear bombs, but it can't actually deliver them and has trouble with technology the rest of the world mastered half a century ago.

People tend to forget that, at the time we were debating going to war with Iraq, Tony Blair mentioned in passing that the time might come to confront Kim Jong-Il. Happily that never came to pass. Kim was not a real threat and neither is his fat son. We would be best to ignore them and tell them to feed themselves if they can afford satellites and rockets.

This is not say that the leaders of this regime and many others are not fundamentally unpleasant people. But they are not a threat to world peace. If the new fat Kim were a Bond villain he would probably say something along the lines of 'No, I expect you to die, Mr Bond. May I borrow your gun?'

Friday, 13 April 2012

No Offence: Stating the Bleeding Obvious

Britain is a free and democratic country which believes in freedom of speech. Why this statement of the obvious? Because some people seem to have forgotten it, or imagine that they have the right not to be offended by the opinions or speech of others. How does that sit with freedom of speech?

This growing intolerance has been driven by Twitter, a medium which allows mass outbursts of self righteousness which all too frequently descend into bullying and threats. Last week I joined in with the mass mickey taking of the ridiculous Samantha Brick, but others went a lot further, protected by the anonymity of the web.

But there have been worse examples since. This week Alan Davies asked, not unreasonably, why it is that Liverpool are still allowed not to play games on the date of the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. The response was instant and mind boggling. Is he not allowed an opinion? Are people incapable of disagreeing with him without claiming offence and resorting to angry abuse?

And he had a point. Do Bradford refuse to play on the anniversary of the equally tragic events at Valley Parade, in the same decade as Hillsborough? Do Juventus still mourn Heysel by refusing to pull on their boots? Is it not time that Liverpool Football Club moved on, or do they imagine that death and tragedy is something unique to them? We all experience death and tragedy to varying degrees during our lives, but life goes on. It has to. Usually it goes on within a matter of days or weeks, let alone after 23 years.

The reaction to Alan Davies making this argument was ferocious. He even felt moved to apologise for no good reason. It was similar to when Jeremy Clarkson made his joke about having strikers shot last year.

And now, following Stonewall's pointless bus poster campaign about some people being gay, there inevitably has been a response from a supposedly Christian group claiming that people can be 'cured' of being gay through prayer. Yet inevitably some have reacted with fury to this and it is now to be banned. Why? Most if not all of the things that the various religions say are equally ludicrous, why are we singling this one out?

In a nation that believes in freedom of speech, people most definitively do not have the right not to be offended. Most of us, if indeed we are that thin skinned, have the sense and maturity to look away, change channels or even laugh. Laughter is the best medicine. Ridicule the most potent weapon.

Silencing people through these campaigns of intolerance is invidious and counterproductive. It is the way religions, with their silly and illogical dogmas, prospered in the first place and is how people who sometimes call themselves progressive try to silence those with opinions they deem unacceptable. If their cause or argument is valid they should be willing to allow the alternative opinion to be put and to win that argument on its merits. Look at what happened when Nick Griffin was allowed on Question Time. He was exposed as being nasty, stupid and ill educated. We've scarcely heard from him since.

That is why freedom of speech and democracy work. They force those in power or who seek power to explain themselves and to be scrutinised. This really shouldn't need to be restated in such simplistic terms. But clearly it does.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

A Fucking Liar Cries Crocodile Tears

Was this Ken's reaction after he stepped out of the lift having been called a fucking liar by that beastly Tory? No. This was his reaction after seeing his own election broadcast in which ordinary Londoners, subsequently revealed to be actors, apparently persuaded by his lies dressed up as promises, beg him to get elected so that he can cut their fares and reinstate the EMA. Well we've all felt a bit low when watching party political broadcasts. I used to be the man on the tele who introduces them. I had to watch. But this one should just make us feel nauseated. 

Ken says that if he loses he will carry the guilt to his grave. Does this mean that he is finally confessing to culpability and that his tax arrangements are hypocritical and may well cost him victory? Well, no. These tears are very much of the crocodile variety. But then so is his smile.

This is a man who will say whatever it takes and will shed a tear too if he thinks it will help. This is the man who once had to apologise to the House of Commons for being less than honest about declaring his outside earnings. That was ten years ago and he got it all out of the way in 60 seconds when few were listening. This is not a man who readily admits to his failings. This is the man who has been caught out saying one thing, about another opponent in the mayoral race, to a room full of journalists only to say the complete opposite moments later. This is a man who is, in short, a fucking liar. It is the people of London who should be shedding tears that the Labour Party couldn't find a decent candidate to lead our nation's capital and that he could still win.

Modern Romance

Apparently Adam Levine was recently dumped by Anne V via the media. Now I have no idea who either of these people are, although apparently one is a member of a popular beat combo named Maroon 5 who, I seem to recall, had a few hits with inoffensive but rather anodyne tunes a few years ago and the other one is a model.

Speaking as someone who was once dumped by text message, I fail to see what is wrong with this trend for announcing these moments to the world at the same time as to your not so loved one, although I suppose it depends on the reason for doing so.

If he or she is what the tabloids call a love rat then surely they deserve all they get? If, as so often seems to be the case, the celebrities in question are too busy jetting around the world servicing their careers rather than each other then perhaps this is the most practical way of communicating the information. Katie Price, I am convinced, probably doesn't realise that is possible to flirt with and subsequently dump her latest victim any other way than through the media. Indeed I believe she now has her own magazine to cut out the middle man. Given that she has to keep churning this stuff out to her educationally challenged readership there probably just isn't time for girl to meet boy and to have to go through all of that face to face nonsense except when generating stories about his bedroom inadequacies. Even then it's best not to look her in the eye. Just tell her not to turn around.

When the telephone was invented was it thought unconscionable to call someone to tell them that you wanted out of a relationship rather than do so face to face? These days, thanks to the internet, we are meeting people online all the time. Some people have sex online. Some may meet, become intimate and then break up without ever actually being in the same room. I shall shortly be meeting up with the love of my life having flown several thousand miles to do so. But then I'm old fashioned like that.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Paul Owen: Setting the Agenda

This blog is increasingly where it is at. I am a bit of a trendsetter. My love of Lucy Worsley has gone from a cult to something far more general and my words about her are even being quoted by The Sunday Times - although they didn't have the decency to atttibute the quote.

Back in December, I wrote the following:

What a truly terrible year it has been for the world's despots, madmen and dictators. The Arab Spring has deprived the world of the likes of Mubarak and Gadaffi; American Seals brought an end to Osama Bin Laden; no end of bare chested macho displays and hilarious treasure hunts could prevent Russians from booing and protesting about Putin and now everyone's favourite stack heeled, bouffant sporting, portly little maniac has finally succumbed to the sybaritic lifestyle he enjoyed while his people starved. Kim Jong Il is dead. Is it too much to ask that this splendid year could take us out on a real high and despatch Robert Mugabe in the next twelve days too? 

Now it is being reported that the murderous crook and fantasist is on his deathbed. I was only a few weeks out.

Head for Heights

Monday, 9 April 2012

Paul Owen Is Away But Might Not Be

I'm having a few days off. Indeed I am heading off to foreign but not necessarily sunnier climes later this week. Of course, in this connected world, this does not necessarily preclude blogging. But it depends what is in the news and what more pleasurable activities are distracting me. The current plan, which is none of your business, is that I shall soon be distracted by considerably more pleasurable activities than blogging. Yes there is such a thing - use your imagination. But I cannot control the news agenda nor my own inclination to comment upon it. So, who knows?

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Signs of our Times

The driver of this van looked rather puzzled when I took this picture. If you are too, then you need to brush up on your spelling.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Taxing Our Politicians

On the face of it it seems like a good idea for those seeking public office to have to publish their income and what taxes they have paid. It is part of a move towards greater transparency and would mean that those who represent us have to come clean about who pays them and what for. It would help expose any conflicts of interest.

The best argument for this would be that it exposes liars and hypocrites like Ken Livingstone, who has squirmed for more than a month since Andrew Gilligan revealed that he is a tax avoider like those he claims should be denied the vote. On Thursday he finally published partial records full of omissions and evasions and they exposed that he is still not telling the complete truth and that, like so many of his political persuasion, he believes we should listen to what he says and pay less attention to what he actually does. If there were to be some culture of openness about what our politicians earn there would have to be some kind of independent oversight employing an army of accountants to see past the lies of the likes of Livingstone.

But there is a strong argument against this kind of openness and that is that it would be another move towards entrenching a political class that is already ruling us. Many on the left seriously believe that politicians should have no outside interests (union affiliations presumably wouldn't count) and have tried to prevent MPs having second jobs. Livingstone clearly resents Boris Johnson's earning power as a writer, despite the fact that he has enjoyed a very comfortable living from his various media activities since losing the mayoralty and was mayor and still an MP for longer than was strictly necessary when he was elected the first time around. Do as he says once again.

But it would be a dangerous and unhealthy development if we were to cement a permanent political class in place thanks to this kind of requirement to be open and honest about their income. Those seeking office would be the kind of political obsessives like the current Labour Party leadership, who have never done anything else of note or shown any interest in anything else. Thus their earnings look clean and unsullied, albeit still in another stratosphere from the rest of us, and they can look down on the millionaires of the Tory party who have made money by working for a living. But would this professionalisation make for better government? And how have Labour, the party of the working classes, got themselves into a place in which they disapprove of people who work hard and maximise their earnings through as many jobs as they can? Isn't that something we should be celebrating?

Look at the furore we have seen about bankers' earnings. Would successful businessmen be prepared to put themselves through forensic dissection of their earnings in order to seek public office? Many would not and who could blame them? Of course the newspapers would love this. It would make their lives so much easier in the wake of Leveson.

The episode about Livingstone's earnings and avoidance came about thanks to good old fashioned journalism. We knew he was a hyocrite but at last had firm proof of how much of one he is. It should now finally finish the old fraud. He can go off and avoid tax to his heart's content. But we should be careful before we consider this a new paradigm for the future.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Pandas: Get Off Your Arses and Mate

There was a fascinating programme on BBC2 last night in which the now Professor Alice Beer revealed new insights into the history, anatomy and eventual downfall of the woolly mammoth. We even got to see how woolly they were. It seems distinctly possible that they had the misfortune of being the first animals driven to extinction or at least helped on the way by humans.

Contrast and compare these magnificent creatures to pandas. Yes, I know they are cute and cuddly looking but my god do they trade on their looks. They're like the animal kingdom's Samantha Bricks. Talk about resting on your laurels.

And now we are told that Edinburgh's selection of these most indolent of creatures, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, are running out of time to add to their diminishing numbers for this year. The window of opportunity is fast running out and these two can't be bothered to draw the curtains. It doesn't help that nature has seen fit to give them such a narrow time scale to get down and dirty of course. But these two, like all pandas, look like they really can't be arsed anyway.

Now I don't claim to be an expert on pandas but surely there is an obvious solution. What they need is competition. Males like to compete over females, we all know that. Without the need to compete they can't be bothered. There's always next year and when you exist on a diet of bamboo (well it's easy and available even if it is spectacularly lacking in nutritious qualities) you have to devote most of your time to eating.

The solution is to get a few bears over and send them out on the town with a few winsome females to compete over and a few beers to diminish any inhibitions. And if that fails perhaps we should just bow to the wisdom of mother nature and leave them to extinction. Perhaps we should bring back some cloned mammoths instead. At least they tried to evolve and didn't just fall back on eating bamboo because it was easy. But for we humans they would have become extinct years ago. They are like benefit scroungers crossed with Paris Hilton. Indeed they could actually learn a thing or two from both. At the very least they could accidentally release an indecent video of themselves on to the internet to help earn their keep. They might make a baby in the process. 

Got Something To Hide, Ken?

Last night, during a Newsnight debate, all of the candidates for London's mayoralty promised to release their full income details. Livingstone with all of the smarmy fake sincerity we have become accustomed to and which I saw close up last weekend, nodded when this was suggested by Jenny Jones.

Thus far three have done so. Only one, Ken Livingstone, has come up with another excuse for not doing so. Andrew Gilligan is across the story as ever.

How much more squirming is the Livingstone campaign going to do? How many more lies are they going to tell? How much longer do we have to wait before the Labour Party admits that their candidate is not fit for public office? Never mind though Ken, I'm sure Respect will welcome you with open arms.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Like Samantha Brick: Are My Looks Holding Me Back?

I've had an epiphany. Like Samantha Brick, the writer, award winning producer, journalist, all round good egg, witty dinner party guest and iconic beauty, is it possible that I am being held back by my good looks and all round wonderfulness? It's something I've never considered before because of my innate modesty, but it does make sense. Are people resentful of my wit, wisdom, charisma, sex appeal and overall brilliance? If only they knew what this is potentially costing the human race. I am now 46. Can the world afford to allow me to languish in obscurity for much longer?

At least the stunning Samantha (actually, Sam, you're nothing to write home about love, in fact you're a bit funny looking) has the Daily Mail to fall back on and indulge her fantasies. It could be worse, she could be Nadine Dorries.

Hole In One

Germany's Martin Kaymer hit this hole in one, skimming it across the lake and straight into the hole. Cue much rejoicing amongst those who like this kind of thing and see nothing wrong in wearing golfing apparel.

Pah! Amateur! Doesn't he realise that the dear leader of North Korea, the late Kim Jong-Il used to score 17 or 18 such wonder shots on every round of golf he played, in between writing great operas and making brilliant movies, not to mention turning his country into the envy of the world? It was probably such exertions that led to his untimely death at the end of last year.

Soon North Korea will be launching a giant rocket into the skies as a kind of tribute to Kim and nothing at all to do with testing a missile capable of hitting the United States and so they shouldn't hold off from sending North Korea some food. It's said that this priapic display is actually a tribute to another one of the dear leaders great gifts. Perhaps it's a kind of tribute to his loins, after all they brought forth yet another great leader who manages to be chubby in a nation of malnourishment. We have yet to hear of his exploits on the golf course.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Politics of Posh Boys and Pasties

Amidst all of the talk about the fast approaching 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, there has been approving reference to the alleged end of Britain's obsession with class. Nowadays, it is noted by some, we would never consider sniggering at someone asking for a serviette intead of a napkin and there would scarcely be a murmur of dissent if they then pronounced the name Featherstonehaugh the way it is written. Perfectly reasonable they would probably argue - at least it shows that synthetic phonics is working at teaching the kids to read. Tick.VG.

One can't help noting however that we are living through an age of reverse snobbery thanks to the presence in government of people who had the good fortune to be sent to highly selective and expensive public schools and who talk in the sort of accents we once regarded as synonymous with heroic derring do thanks to the British film industry - indeed perhaps this is why George gave them a tax break. We need more received pronunciation, more Downton Abbey, more men called Ralph who pronounce it Rafe. We need more foie gras rather than pasties.

These days, you see, it is not deemed at all impolite for a Labour backbencher to ask in withering terms when the Chancellor last ate a high street pasty and for us all to nod knowingly when we receive the inevitable answer. If George had had any sense and just an ounce or two of wit, he should have replied that he was more a of a tuna and salad baguette man.

Anyway, the damage was done. The Chancellor's pasty deficit was seen as symptomatic of something, although I would love someone to tell us what this is. Does a fondness for high street food indicate a more sagacious politician?  Can we look forward to the question cropping up in future elections or even when they are being selected in the first place? Will Oxbridge colleges have to end centuries of tradition in their dining halls and invite in a kebab franchise?

Similarly the media sniggers patronisingly at toff language when informed that the PM indulged in a kitchen supper. The fact that millions do so themselves (probably one of those Jamie 30 minute recipes) albeit using different language, is neither here nor there. It's a sign of a disconnect between the rulers and the ruled so we are told.

Yet the rulers only have themselves to blame for this. The Conservatives have allowed themselves to be labelled this way by a Labour Party that is full of professional politicians and middle class metropolitans who regard the north as the land of the safe constituency and little else. Oh, there's pasties and steak bakes now as well of course.

Instead of a political party, people now regard Conservatives as a kind of special interest group for the wealthy. Thus when they cut taxes for perfectly sensible and economically literate reasons they are labelled as rewarding themselves and their friends rather than using such measures as a proven way of boosting the economy and attracting inward investment as was shown during the 80s and 90s.

The reason this has so much force is because Tories have abandoned ground to Labour. Gordon Brown managed, despite his serial failings, to define British politics in a way that few have done before and with disastrous consequences thanks to the failings of the Conservative leadership who cannot or will not take on the argument for fear of being called nasty or selfish. This, we are told, is modernisation.

It's nothing of the sort of course. It's just the Tories abandoning principle and ideology for the kind of technocratic government now so in vogue but which so turns off the public. Indeed it's not even technocratic as this would imply some kind of specialism and expertise. What we have is PR men and professional politicians governing us in perpetuity and then wondering at public disenchantment.

You can always tell when a government is in trouble because they start arguing that the policies are right but the communication and message is failing. Except this is a government that was all about the message like New Labour before it. That is what is wrong with modern politics.

It isn't as if they haven't got some brave and radical instincts. The welfare reforms are brave as is the increasingly impressive Michael Gove's education reforms against the most entrenched of vested interests. It is more of this kind of boldness that would make this government stand out. Indeed the recently passed NHS bill may well turn out to be the beginning of a much needed revolution in healthcare when history comes to be written.

The problem that the Conservatives have is that they are afraid to trust their instincts and be Conservative. Forget the Brownite clever tactics and the gimmicks and do what you believe in. Cut taxes where possible and when not set out the aim of doing so. Take the middle classes out of that ever expanding 40% bracket. Cut the top rate because we know it is doing damage. Stand up for what you know is right. That was what happened in the 80s and it changed the political landscape. Labour were forced to make an accommodation with the new reality in order to make themselves electable.

It is for governments to set the agenda. This one, all too often, allows its predecessor to do so. Yet when it is bold it can capture the public mood. If it were bolder and more confident in its arguments it could do so much better.